By Mary B. Ingram
The Bay City Public Library situated at the corner of Fifth Street and Avenue H, originated in 1912. Many dedicated citizens were instrumental in providing library services for the community.
Thomas H. Lewis, a young lawyer, became the first superintendent of Matagorda County Schools in 1908, and he initiated interest for a circulating library among area patrons. The Bay City Library Association was formed in 1912 and books were first issued to Bay Citians twice a week from a cubbyhole niche in the J. P. Keller Insurance Company at a site on the downtown courthouse square. Interested citizens joined the library association and the first nine elected to the Board of Directors were Thomas H. Lewis, D. P. Moore, Mrs. F. H. Jones, Mrs. E. J. Kilbride, Henry Rugeley, Mrs. S. A. Lewis, G. A. Moore, Mrs. Hallie Bryan Perry and Miss Florence Bouldin. Mayor John Sutherland tried to help the association obtain a Carnegie library for the city, but the request was denied due to Bay City’s small population.
Accordingly, the group worked to raise funds and purchase land on which to build their own library. The deed to the library lots “all of lot No. 6 and the north half of lot No. 5 in Block 117 in town of Bay City, Texas” was made out to Thomas H. Lewis, Trustee for Bay City Library Association from B. E. Norvell and E. E. Ruse, dated October 31, 1913. Construction on a 75 x 40 frame building was soon begun and was completed in 1914 from lumber handpicked by Mayor John Sutherland who also happened to be manager of Alamo Lumber Co. The Association’s meager supply of books was moved to the new building and the library was formerly opened to the public early in 1915. The charter was filed August 18, 1915.
The first librarian in the new library building was Miss Josephine McCullough, who was appointed by Mrs. Emmett Perry and served from 1915 until 1918 when she married T. A. Williams. Her mother-in-law, Mrs. Andrew Williams, took over the librarian’s post to be followed by Mrs. Grover Moore, Mrs. E. J. Kilbride and Mrs. H. A. Blaylock.
Throughout the years the members of the Bay City Library Association struggled with the finances to keep the library opened for the community. In the earlier years the group sponsored dances, raffled pictures, sold hamburgers, staged a benefit show, and had twelve lots donated for the benefit of the library. The Wesley Bible Class of First United Methodist Church met in the library building from 1915 until 1939 and once was reprimanded for their lack of neatness.
In 1921, Irby Stinnett was elected secretary of the association. She stated in her minutes “…while a recent membership drive for funds is not completed; enough money has been raised to make the treasurer feel comfortable.” In 1923, $200 was spent for books, and great impetus was given the Association’s efforts when Judge John M. Corbett donated twelve lots to the library to help raise funds. Evidently, they proved successful for the 1926 minutes show the Association had spent $105, issued 2,679 books and $22.76 was collected in fines.
Evidently, some of the Corbett lots were raffled off in 1927. Miss Iris Darby was noted as one holding the lucky number of Lot No. 3. During the year, 3,892 books were circulated and $29.47 collected in fines. In 1928 W. M. Martin won one of the lots in a contest. The librarian was allotted $2.00 per months for cleaning and sweeping the building and $5.00 a month was paid to a young lad by the name of Beadle Moore for yard work.
In 1936, Mrs. Arthur Harris, board member, appeared before the City Council asking for financial assistance. The City agreed to give $25 monthly and the City Water Works gave $300 as a contribution. In 1937 the Association sponsored a series of book reviews by Eleanor Sims of Houston. These book reviews evolved into the Bay City Book Review Club.
The Daily Tribune, the local newspaper, raised money through its daily column, “Mirth,” which was written by the editor and a board member, Carey Smith, Jr.
By 1955, the city of Bay City was budgeting $1000 toward the support of the library. The Bay City Gas Company began plans for the construction of a new library building. The building was completed in 1958. Part of the building was leased to Southwestern Bell Telephone Company which brought extra income to the library. The Junior Service League volunteered their services which made it possible to keep the library opened six days a week. Friends of the Library organized in 1977 and volunteered their services in many ways to assist the library program.
The library is known today as the “Bay City Public Library,” but is still operated under the directors of the Bay City Library Association. Both city and county contribute to the upkeep of the library; the city budgeting $25,000; Matagorda County $60,000. In the fall of 1987 the Library became a part of the Houston Area Library System and has grown from that small front store library of a few books in 1912 to a collection of 37,992 items in its collection.
[This narrative was written in 1988 as a part of the application for the Texas State historical marker.]
Read an updated history
By Arlene M. Bennett
THE EARLY YEARS
In 1912, the need for a public library for Bay City compelled a group of ladies, who met weekly to play bridge, to begin lending “a few books twice weekly from a cubbyhole niche located in the J. P. Keller Insurance Company, at a site at the corner of Sixth Street and Avenue F. Mrs. J. P. Keller reminisced the books were kept on a shelf in the building.” (Steighorst 136)
“The ladies involved were Mesdames J. M. Corbett, B. L. Livengood, E. L. Perry, T. A. Williams, E. J. Kilbride (my grandmother), G. A. Moore, F. H. Jones, R. R. Lewis and Miss Florence Bouldin,” according to research and personal recollections of Helen Cates Neary in 2005. “They asked the help of Thomas H. Lewis, County Superintendent of Schools and an attorney, and John M. Corbett, another young attorney, and these gentlemen drew up papers for a library.”
According to articles published by The Daily Tribune during the early years of the library, later researched and copied by Helen Neary from the files of the Matagorda County Museum, the library birthday was traditionally celebrated in February each year.
“Once the papers were drawn up, books were gathered from all the households. In the early years, the ladies took turns keeping the small library open and continued collecting books. Our grandmother, Mrs. Kilbride, the first book chairman, kept a little red wagon in the barn, and whenever my brother C.C. and I visited from Tennessee, our first chore was to pull the little wagon around the town site collecting more books.” (Neary)
“As the book collection (about 800 volumes) grew and the patronage of the public increased, it was time to obtain larger quarters. On October 31, l913, B. E. Norvell and E. E Ruse deeded land to Thomas H. Lewis, library trustee, for a site for a new building. Members of the Association decided on a bungalow style frame building to be located on the two lots at the corner of Ave. H and 5th Street. The builder was O. E. Hatchett, and construction began Oct. 7, l915, and the total cost was $938.35. A concrete street crossing from the First Presbyterian Church to the library was laid in November as a convenience to library visitors. The Daily Tribune donated $10 for landscaping, the Librarian was paid $2.00 (a month) for cleaning and sweeping, and (young) Beadle Moore, son of Mrs. G. A. Moore, was paid $5.00 to keep the grounds.” (Neary)
“Another significant event of 1915 took place on August 18 when the charter of the Bay City Library Association was filed. The first nine elected to the Board of Directors were D. P. Moore, Mrs. F. H. Jones, Thomas H. Lewis, Mrs A. E. (E. J.) Kilbride, Henry Rugeley, Mrs. S. A. Lewis, G. A. Moore, Mrs. Hallie Bryan Perry and Miss Florence Bouldin. Capital stock was listed as “none.” (Steighorst 136)
“Throughout the years, the members of the Bay City Library Association have struggled with the finances to keep the library open. In earlier years, the group sponsored dances, raffled a picture, sold hamburgers, and sponsored a benefit show. City lots were donated for the benefit of the library. The Wesley Bible Class of First Methodist Church began meeting in the library shortly after it was built and continued to meet there until l939. The members of the Bible class paid a small fee for the rental and once were reprimanded for their lack of neatness!” (Ingram, p. 463)
“Carey Smith, Jr. became a member of the association’s board of directors in l934 (he served on the board for 50 years), and as editor of The Daily Tribune, he promoted the library through his front-page column “Mirth.” Library members paid annual dues of $1 making it possible to buy a few books each year. In l936 a committee went to the city council asking for assistance. The city agreed to give $25 monthly ($300 annually) to the library. This gradually increased and in 1984 the city budgeted $25,000. Matagorda County included the library in its budget and in l984 budgeted $30,000.” (Ingram 464)
Mary Belle Ingram’s research revealed that the succession of librarians (later called library directors) began with the first, Mrs. T. A. Williams, succeeded by Mrs. Grover Moore, Mrs. E. J. Kilbride, who served until l947, followed by Mrs. H. A. (Callie) Blaylock, who served for many years, Geraldine Livengood King (James Allen’s aunt) and Frances Parker. (Ingram 464) Parker served well for almost 15 years. (In her history of the library, Junann Steighorst listed as librarian a Mrs. Andrew Williams between Mrs. T. A. Williams [her daughter in law] and Mrs. Grover Moore.)
THE LIBRARY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
In 1987, The Library Board of Directors hired young, decisive Dale Fleeger, the first Bay City library director to have a Masters in Library Science (Indiana University, Bloomingdale, IN) and a mission to bring the Bay City Library into the digital age. Computers were acquired through the Houston Area Library Service (HALS) and volunteer Richard Hart set up the needed programs.
Employee Margie Carson, who had been trained in cataloguing by Mary Belle Ingram (a part time employee of the library at the time), began the conversion of the card catalog into a database, assisted by staff member Janice Bull and volunteers. Arlene Bennett was hired as assistant to Fleeger and given the responsibility of initiating weekly programs for several daycare schools and a six-week summer reading program for grades K through 8. She formed a Junior Library Volunteer organization of mostly home-schooled children who frequented the library.
During Fleeger’s almost three years as director, the Matagorda Branch Library opened, the Bay City Library became a member of the Houston Area Library System, and the library received certification by the State of Texas. A Matagorda County Historic Marker was placed in front of the library location at the intersection of 5th Street and Avenue H. Don Haley was president of the Bay City Library Board of Directors during this period of growth. After Fleeger, all the Bay City library directors had MLS degrees.
The next significant library event after the historic marker placement was the move from the building on 5th Street shared with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company to its present location at 1100 7th Street, the former Bay City Federal Savings and Loan building. Roseanne Burgess was library director at the time, and Elizabeth Young was president of the Library Board of Directors. (Young has served on the library board for over 50 years and remains a member in 2012.)
While the over-crowded library was still at the 5th Street address, a library board committee, chaired by Frank Lewis, was appointed to find a new location, and a number of options were studied. However, none were suitable, according to Board Member Janet Peden, Lewis’s daughter.
The acquisition of the present location began with an appeal to the Bay City Gas Board for help, and the response was a donation to the City of Bay City of $400,000. The City then purchased the 5th Street library property, allowing the Bay City Library Board of Directors to fund a new library building.
Information given to Janet Peden from three bankers she met while on a business trip was that the Bay City Federal Bank was soon to be taken over by the federal government. (In the early 80s, many banks were failing.) After hard work and much negotiation, Peden and the others on the library board were able to acquire the building for $400,000.
Since some renovation to the building was needed before the library could move in, Peden chaired a fund raising committee to pay for the renovation and acquisition of furniture and equipment. The dedication took place on October 24, l993, and was open to the public on October 25th. Part of this building is leased to Capital One Bank. During the interview with Peden, it was learned that the Lewis family ties to the library go back three generations to her grandfather, J. C. Lewis, who served many years on the Library Board of Directors.
Significant to this era was the September 3rd, 1991, opening of another branch library in Matagorda County, this one in Sargent, Texas. The Sargent Library continues to flourish due to the dedication of area citizens, the many patrons who use the library, and a very active Friends group. A local patron has donated two acres of land for a hoped-for new library building.
After Fleeger came Rosanne Burgess, Alan Withoff, Jana Prock, and Martha Johnson. Ann Moore is the present Library Director as the library celebrates its 100 years of service to the citizens of Bay City and Matagorda County. Sue Hall was hired in l994, and became Assistant Director when Alan Withoff was hired. In that office, she has served as an outstanding Interim Director when needed.
Three organizations that have close ties to the library are: The Junior Service League, organized in l959, the Friends of the Bay City Public Library, organized in l977, and the Matagorda County Genealogical Society, organized in l981.
The Junior Service League chose the Bay City Library as its foremost project, and provides weekly volunteer staff at the front desk. A part of the proceeds from the League’s yearly Charity Ball is traditionally earmarked for the library, according to Charter Member Martha Bachman in her article about the League printed in the Spring 2006 Between Friends newsletter. The library is indebted to the League for its valuable support.
The Matagorda County Genealogical Society has been an integral part of the Bay City Library since its beginning in l981 in a closet-size room of the 5th Street library “with a collection of not more than 50 books and a chair,” according to Mary Belle Ingram’s article, “Down Memory Lane,” written for the Summer 2006 issue of Between Friends. “Today there is a wonderful genealogical collection in a spacious room in the Bay City Public Library. This partnership with the library has been phenomenal and the genealogical membership thanks the Library Board of Directors for their support and cooperation.”
The Friends of the Bay City Library was organized March 1, l977, with 38 members. “Since its formation in l977, the Friends organization has provided continuous, much-needed service, materials and special funding for the library system, which presently consists of the main library in Bay City and branches in Matagorda and Sargent,” wrote Elizabeth Young, MLS Certified, in an article for the January 2006 issue of Between Friends. In 2012, Friends of the Library, under the progressive leadership of President Wanda Laird, continues to provide the above, plus many new services and activities.
Two men who have contributed untold hours of time and talent to the library in recent years are James Allen, CPA, and Tim Hall, STP Nuclear Engineer. Since the mid 70s, when Allen’s father, Frank Allen, turned the job over to him, Allen has served as treasurer of the Bay City Library Board of Directors. His responsibilities include oversight of the finances of the library, preparing budgets, issuing regular financial statements to the Board of Directors, depositing funds and issuing checks, “trying to make sure the library doesn’t go into the red,” and until a few years ago, doing the payroll and reports.
Since 2000, Tim Hall has initiated continuous updating of the library’s computer system, the e-rate, which helps with the cost of Internet, purchasing, and the overall maintenance of the whole system. J. B. Groves has lent assistance at times. Both Allen and Hall have saved the library system thousands of dollars through their unpaid professional services.
Another volunteer extraordinaire is Library Board member Cecil Roberts, Maintenance Chairman. “He comes in every day, checks and does whatever is needed to maintain the building, and he also oversees the grounds,” comments Director Ann Moore.
In the Fall 2010 issue of Between Friends, Library Board President Barbara Sliva wrote of the Board’s decision to close the Matagorda Branch Library on July 20, 2010, due to steadily declining usage, deteriorated condition of the building, a severe mold and mildew problem, and rising heating and cooling expense.
As the library enters the second century of service
to our citizens, the County of Matagorda, the City of Bay City, and the
Library Board of Directors, under the capable leadership of President
Barbara Sliva, are working together to solve the problem of finances in
a time of economic slump, a problem met many times before during the
library’s first 100 years. City and County officials have pledged their
commitment to assist the Bay City Library Board in maintaining the high
standards of dedication and service that began 100 years ago with a
small group of ladies passionate about sharing their love of reading and
Neary, Helen Cates In The Beginning: The Early History of the Bay City Library, pub. in the Fall 2005 issue of Between Friends: Newsletter of Friends of the Bay City Library
Stieghorst, Junann J. Bay City and Matagorda County: A History (Sponsored by Junior Service League of Bay City) Pemberton Press-Austin 1965
Ingram, Mary Belle Historic Matagorda County
Volume I D. Armstrong Co, Inc. Houston, Texas l986
Copyright 2011 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Sep. 13, 2011
Aug. 28, 2013